Convict Shirt

1819–1848

Known as a smish, kemesa or flesh-bag in the convict 'flash' slang language, this convict uniform shirt has been worn, torn, stained and patched. Discovered in 1979 under one of the stairtreads leading to Level 3 of Hyde Park Barracks, it is a rare survivor of the tens of thousands of shirts that were issued to convicts in the penal era. Manufactured from a plain weave unbleached cotton, with blue weft stripes of alternating width, it has a red Board of Ordnance and broad arrow stamp - ‘BO/↑’ - at lower left front, confirming its issue by the Board of Ordnance, and ownership by the government. 

As with most other movable items at the Barracks, convict shirts were traded on the black market. The authorities often discovered convicts stealing shirts, smuggling shirts out of the Barracks by wearing doubles, or throwing them over the walls to others waiting on the other side.

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Convict Sydney, Level 1, Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Convict Sydney

Objects

These convict-era objects and archaeological artefacts found at Hyde Park Barracks and The Mint (Rum Hospital) are among the rarest and most personal artefacts to have survived from Australia’s early convict period

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Convict Sydney

Convict Sydney

From a struggling convict encampment to a thriving Pacific seaport, a city takes shape.

Close up of a ceramic bottle. This item was featured in one of our virtual excursions.

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